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Decision No. 699

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October 29 1993
In Re: Constitutionality of Policies and Procedures as Developed by the Cabinets and Board of Ordained Ministry of the Detroit and West Michigan Conferences for Dealing with Clergy Sexual Misconduct.

Digest of Case

A procedure for dealing with clergy sexual misconduct must be adopted by an Annual Conference, not by any board, agency or sub-unit thereof.

Statement of Facts

In early 1991, the bishop of the West Michigan and Detroit conferences created a task force to draft a document which would develop a procedure for dealing with clergy sexual misconduct. The task force completed its work in May 1991, presented the document to a joint meeting of Cabinets and Boards of Ordained Ministry of both conferences, who in turn adopted the final version. The adopted document was presented to the conferences at their next Annual Conferences for information only, and no debate or approval by either Annual Conference was pursued. At the 1993 West Michigan Annual Conference, a motion was made to refer the matter to the Judicial Council under Par. 2612: The 1993 West Michigan Annual Conference requests a ruling from the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church on the constitutionality of the "Policies and Procedures for Dealing With Clergy Sexual Misconduct" as developed by the Cabinets and Boards of Ordained Ministry of the Detroit and West Michigan Conferences to inform clergy and laity how they (Cabinet and Board) would seek to follow the responsibilities given to them by The Discipline. On October 28, 1993, the Judicial Council held oral argument in Atlanta, Georgia. Appearing were: S. Dale Lathers, representing the First UnitedMethodist Church of Big Rapids, Michigan; Thomas C. Shearer, representing the West Michigan Annual Conference; Robert Horton, representing the West Michigan Annual Conference Cabinet; and Renard J. Kolasa, representing the Detroit Annual Conference Cabinet. Neither the Board of Ordained Ministry nor the Cabinet has been given policy-making authority, nor can policy-making authority be inferred from the responsibilities given them by the Discipline. Par. 704 of the 1992 Discipline gives the power to develop rules and regulations to the Annual Conference. In the instant matter, The Policies and Procedures document at issue was not adopted by either the Detroit or the West Michigan Annual Conference and therefore it has not been approved as a policy of either conference. We have been asked to assume that The Policies and Procedures were adopted and to then determine the substantive constitutionality of each provision therein. We decline. Without a fully and constitutionally adopted policy in place and with the real likelihood that changes will be made if The Policies and Procedures are presented to the Annual Conferences for adoption, a determination on any substantive issue is not ripe for Judicial Council review.

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